Complex? Absolutely. But magnificently, wonderfully complex.
There’s an Eddie Izzard skit in one of his concerts (the video of it is here) where he discusses fashion, clothes and the circular path of coolness. His contention is that there’s a razor’s edge between looking supremely cutting edge cool and “looking like a dickhead“. And it goes round, where the further you go round clockwise, the cooler you look. Get to midnight and balance precariously at the point between the two and you’re occupying the place where all the really, seriously cool people hang out.
That’s where I think Douglas Noble’s work is approaching, he really does run that fine edge between incomprehensible, all too clever abstraction and absolute genius.
And you know what? Most of the time he’s teetering into absolute genius.
Every time I receive a set of his comics there’s a moment of almost fear, where I know I’m going to have to read something very complicated, very thoughful, intricate, open-ended and quite often magnificent. The fear comes from hoping I can keep up with him. And although Complex is one of his easier works it’s still brilliantly, wonderfully open-ended. A very, very intelligent thriller perhaps?
I looked at Complex Issues 1 & 2 here and had this to say:
“I’m beginning to think Douglas Noble may be a tortured genius. Or possily borderline insane. His comics, carefully constructed and difficult, are dark, visionary things, full of unexplained events and deliberately, wonderfully vague and uncertain. It requires serious thought on the part of the reader, a commitment to fully engage, completely immerse oneself into the worlds he creates and several readings before the full extent of his work hits home. Live Static was brilliant and Complex is just as good, albeit completely different.”
“I found Complex absolutely enthralling in all it’s claustrophobic, doom-laden, confusing, complicated story. Like most of Noble’s work I loved it even though I’m not entirely sure I completely understand it all yet. He does a great job of sucking the reader into his dark and claustrophobic world.”
“Complex is an end of the world tale, a waiting for armageddon tale – well, maybe. Like most things in Noble’s work we’re never quite certain. All we know from these first two collections of his online Complex strip is that a group of scientists, living and working in a research base (the Complex of the title) are convinced they are witnessing the imminent destruction of the world.”
When we left Complex, at the end of issue 2, we knew that there was a plume of strange smoke slowly approaching. Most of the staff of the Complex had fled, links with the outside world had been cut, and those that remained were questioning there purpose, wondering what function they were meant to perform, wondering what secrets were held inside the Complex. Like I said in the review before – “This is the story of what happens whilst everyone waits“.
And they’re still waiting. Waiting for the end of the (their?) world. Just four of them by now. Amusing themselves by making their own television, wondering when the end is going to come, fearful, expectant.
(The last survivors, making their own entertainment whilst waiting for the end of their world. From Douglas Noble’s Complex.)
The thing is, for something so thoughtful and brooding, there’s such tension generated by Noble’s carefully constructed storytelling and minimal artwork. Amazingly, there’s even a chance to end each issue on a heart pumping cliffhanger.
It’s not just a thriller, it’s an intelligent, intellectual thriller. The tension builds, the characters play their parts, the dialogue and convesations between them is enthralling as we try to eke out every possible meaning from their words, trying (and failing) to second guess Noble.
There’s a plane crash, the Doctor begins construction of a map of everything that was going on pre catastrophe, and discovers at least two areas of funding and manpower that don’t have a project attached. Could this be the secret beyond the Complex – or just one of it’s many secrets? We meet an old adversary and there’s even a murder here that’s just one of the cliffhangers that had me engrossed all the way through these three chapters.
(The Doctor maps out just some of the secrets. But what do they all mean? From Douglas Noble’s Complex.)
But like all the best thrillers there’s not that much I can really say about these middle to end chapters of Complex that wont give too much away. And it’s far too good a comic to be spoilt by the likes of me.
Noble’s art in Complex exists as something beautifully minimal, telling just what it needs to, simple constructions where his panel borders and thick inked lines draw you into the claustrophobic world his characters find themselves in. The art, just like the story, is carefully, perfectly controlled.
(One of the final pages of Complex 5. Everything is all set for the conclusion. I’m expecting wonderful things. From Douglas Noble’s Complex.)
How’s it going to end? I have no idea. I gave up second guessing Noble a while back. And although Complex concluded online at Noble’s Strip For Me site recently, I’ve deliberately held off looking at the conclusion. Not because I don’t want to – it’s taking all my willpower to resist.
No, I want to experience the ending in tactile, hold it in your hands mini-comic form.
Just like all of Noble’s work, Complex walks the razor’s edge between absolute sheer genius and abstract near incomprehensibility. Thing is, even his failures (in my eyes) are glorious ones. And Complex, at least 5/6ths of the way through is a huge, magnificent success. Noble’s a major talent. It’s just a shame no publisher knows it.